Craft and industry

The earliest evidence of a shoe carved entirely from one piece of solid wood in Holland is dated 1429.
From there on we also know the existence of wooden shoemakers guilds in the the cities.
Wooden shoes were not only worn in the Netherlands, they were made and worn along the entire European coastal, mostly soft marshy area from Scandinavia to Spain.
Holland in the past mostly promoted as the country of Tulips, Wooden shoes and Windmills is charming enough, but the wooden shoe in one piece seems to have originated in the south of France.

In the Middle Ages the wooden sandal developed into the patten. As the latter had extra layers of wood or wooden pegs under sole and heel the foot came less in contact with the mud of the street. Furthermore it was easier to bend the foot as the extra sole was shorter than the one on which the foot rested. The patten served as overshoe in which a thin leather slipper was worn. In the Euro~ pean eities pattens were worn during the entire 15th century, as shown in many paintings of that time. In 1429 a guild of patten and wooden shoe makers was in existence in Leyden.
At this same period mules were also used. chiefly indoors. These had wooden soles held to the feet by toe-pieces of leather.
The shoe carved entirely from one piece of wood was known in the Netherlands in 1429. From this time on we find guûds of wooden~shoe makers in the eities.
That the wooden shoe developed from the patten can be seen from the extra layers of wood under the soles in the early examples.
W ooden shoes were made and worn along the entire European coast of AtIantic Ocean and North Sea from Spain to Scandinavia, espeeially where there was soft marshy ground. The wooden shoe in one piece is believed to have originated in the south of France.

In the Netherlands wooden shoes are made from willow and poplar wood.
Up to 1918 they were carved entirely by hand but since then mechanical methods of manufacture have gradually developed. They are made in the places where the right sort of wood grows. In the provinces where there are few trees such as North Holland. Friesland, and Groningen few wooden shoes were made.
The tree trunks were bought in the fall and winter and stored near the workshop of the wooden shoe maker. After half a year of aging the wood was just right for use.
The trunks were sawed into pieces of the desired lengths and these lengths then split by a wedge into several pieces from each of which one wooden shoe was made. The shoe was then roughly hacked into shape with an axe after which it was carved into the finished product. One side of the carving knife was fastened by a hook to the workbench and the wooden shoe maker guided the shoe with one hand, the knife with the other.
The next step was to clamp a pair of wooden shoes with wood en wedges to another workbench to be hollowed out. The rough inside form was given by special spoon-augers, the final finish by several curved knives. After this the sharp side of a piece of glass was used to smooth the outside. As the wood was wet when carved wooden shoes had to be dried before they could be sold. It took about an hour and a half to make a pair of wooden shoes by hand.
At the present time wooden shoes are usuady painted. This makes them easier to clean and water does not soak into the wood so easily. Formerly they were scoured with sand or whitewashed.

Of the many wooden shoe designs there are two main forms that can be easily distinguished, the low or patten wooden shoe and the high wooden shoe. The patten wooden shoe has a much shorter toepiece and is always worn with a leather strap over the instep. Women especially prefer this model. Both forms show great variations, round or pointed toe, clumsy or elegant form, concave or convex form at the back. For certain kinds of work special designs are made:
for peat workers and market gardeners, an entirely flat underpiece without a separate heel; for reedcutters and workers in oyster beds, who of ten have their feet in the water, wooden shoes with a high leather boot leg; hobnails for those who fish through ice, deliver milk by sledge or sweep the ice clean.

On what was once the island of Marken it was the custom for a young man to give his girl a pair of wooden shoes decorated by carved designs. The initials of the girl were also carved into the shoe. Almost all wooden shoes there bore a special mark or monogram, even the painted ones. This had the practical purpose of making it easy to recognize one's own shoes when several pairs were standing together.
Along the coast the wooden shoes were scoured with shellsand. This made them very white but easily soiled. In other places they were whitewashed, in Marken they were treated with a mixture of fine sand and bluing. The Staphorsters scoured theirs with sharkskin which was in general use for smoothing wood before sandpaper came on the market. Between Kampen and Zwolle wooden shoes were whitened by carbide. The Limburgers used marl. In North Brabant and Flemish Zealand the shoes were smoked to give them an even brown colour.
In these brown wooden shoes figures were scratched with a knife.
Elsewhere also simple line decorations were carved on wooden shoes. Each wooden shoe maker had his own special designs, of ten imitations of leather shoes.
Later it became the custom to paint wooden shoes, first white and later yellow as more practical.
The Marken women with their colourful costumes wore green shoes decorated by painted roses but also of ten shiny black ones with their initials painted on them. The young Marken girtl's shoes with carved decorations are well-known.

Wooden shoes were worn everywhere where rough or wet work had to be done and even at present they are still found useful. A wooden shoe is excellent protection for the foot against dampness, cold, and injury. Agricultural labourers, stock farmers, polder workers, road builders, bargees, fishermen, street cleaners, reedcutters, masons, glass blowers, peat wor kers, smiths, dairy workers, butchers, laundry workers, and brick makers all wore wooden shoes. Women who sold fish, made nets, worked on farms or did other wet or dirty work liked to wear wooden shoes. Few wooden shoes were worn indoors though sometimes special wooden shoes were kept for indoor wear.
The Marken fishermen walked in stocking feet on their boats or wore special wooden shoes.
On the whole it was people with small incomes who wore wooden shoes. The schools in poor neighbourhoods were called "wooden shoe schools".
During both world wars when leather shoes were scarce and expensive wooden shoes were much worn especially by young people.
Old wooden shoes which are no longer fit to be worn are of ten used for all sorts of purposes, as a receptacle for small objects, as a flower pot, as a bailer in a boat. Boys make sailboats or stringed instruments from them. In the country wooden shoes are used to beat the time in a dance.
In the Dutch language there are several words derived from the sound made by walking in wood en shoes and popular sayings of ten mention them.
Although it is clear from the above that foreigners are incorrect in regarding the wooden shoe as a national Netherlands symbol a great many wooden shoes are made for the trade in souvenirs. Some wearable ones are colourfully painted with windmills and tulips and others are used as table lamps, brush holders, or candy dishes. For these functions they are often made not of wood but of pottery.


-Stichting History der Techniek - TU Eindhoven (NL)
-Klompen - Their makers en their wearers
Author: H.Noorlander
-"Nederlands Openluchtmuseum Arnhem"